Chinedu Ekeke: Osinbajo Struggles To Not Outshine Sluggish, Bumbling Buhari

Nigeria’s Vice President Yemi Osinbajo is struggling not to be seen to outshine his boss, President Muhammadu Buhari, whose sluggish approach to governance has rallied critics against him and frustrated supporters in his nearly two years of exercising presidential powers.

Buhari is currently in the United Kingdom attending to an undisclosed ailment, although his handlers insist the president is hale and hearty, only receiving a much-needed rest. But the president made an abrupt departure to the UK on January 19, even though a letter he transmitted to the National Assembly to that effect indicated he was going to commence a 10-day leave on January 23. He left before the date he indicated he would leave. The speed of his departure raised concerns about his health.

However, in the same letter, the president handed over to his Vice, Yemi Osinbajo, a wonky professor of law who served as Attorney General in Lagos state for eight years. After the ten days the president had sought, he again wrote to the legislature, this time seeking an indefinite extension of his stay abroad.

Within the period the president has been away, Osinbajo carried on with the basic tasks of governance, tasks which have earned him accolades home and abroad. First, Osinbajo recognized the right of people to freely assemble for protests and acknowledged that on February 6th when Nigerians protested in different cities against the hardship brought upon them by the country’s current economic recession. He told protesters that the government heard them ‘loud and clear’.

Under Buhari’s watch, the Nigerian Military, described recently by Transparency International as ‘Human Rights Abusers’ killed scores of peaceful protesters seeking an Independent State of Biafra in the South East. Many public affairs commentators are of the view that if Buhari was around at the time of the February 6th protests, there might have been incidents of brutality from security agencies.

Osinbajo also sent the name of Justice Walter Onnoghen to the National Assembly for confirmation. Onnoghen was sworn in as acting CJN on November 10, 2016, by Buhari, even though the National Judicial Council (NJC) had long forwarded his name to the president as the next in line to replace then outgoing CJN Justice Mahmud Mohammed. The NJC recommendation was in line with tradition that the most senior justice of the Supreme Court at the time of the retirement of a sitting CJN takes over. The president did not forward Onnoghen’s name to the legislature. No reason was given for the action.

As his three months acting period was going to elapse, many citizens began to agitate about the delay in converting the judge to a substantive CJN. The presidency quickly packaged a line of defence, claiming security agencies were carrying out a background check on Onnoghen. But many understood the background check could have also been carried out soon after the NJC recommendation, while Justice Mohammed was still the CJN.

But that sluggishness is in tune with Buhari’s known modus operandi in governance. It took him nearly six months to assemble a cabinet after inauguration, even though he had two months between when he won the presidential election and when he took oath of office.

Currently, only three out of Nigeria’s 36 states have resident electoral commissioners (RECs) for the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), yet Nigeria has just about two years to another general elections. Those vacant posts need to be filled with presidential appointments. That has not been done., and no reason has been given for leaving the posts vacant.

Exactly a year ago, Minister of State for Labour, James Ocholi died in a ghastly accident on his way from Kaduna to Abuja. The president is yet to nominate a replacement for him. In Nigeria’s constitution, each state should produce a Federal Minister. Failure to replace Ocholi means Kogi state doesn’t have its fair share of representation at the Federal Executive Council (FEC).

The Vice President also undertook tours to the Niger-Delta states where he interacted with the people, speaking frankly to them about government’s desire to develop their communities and make life easier for them.  The visit to the region was in search of lasting peace to the perennial crisis of insurgency that has stalled development in that part. Some leaders of the region said after the VP’s well received visit, that such visitation was all the people of the region yearned for, just to be involved in their own affairs.

Prior to his medical vacation, President Buhari had remained holed up in Aso Villa, visiting only about five states in nearly two years. Part of the states he visited were Edo, for campaign and Ondo, also for campaign. APC, the president’s party, contested for the governorship seats in the two states. He however did visit 35 countries since his inauguration.

On the economic front, Vice President Osinbajo presided over the National Economic Council (NEC) meeting wherein it was agreed that $250 million be injected into the Sovereign Wealth Fund (SWF), and the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) was advised to adjust its forex policy. Subsequently, the apex bank came up with an action plan, and also released $371 million into the inter-bank market. Less than 48 hours after, the naira, which was exchanging for about N510 to a dollar crashed to between N400 and N450.

Since the appreciation of the Naira, Osinbajo’s stock has risen before Nigerians, and many of Buhari’s critics have publicly joked that the president remains abroad permanently since it seems his Vice is doing better.

But the Office of the Vice President which, initially, was out to promote the VP’s competence seems to have recoiled as it is increasingly appearing like more Nigerians prefer Osinbajo’s style of leadership. This became quite pronounced in a press statement sent out by Osinbajo’s Media Aide on Monday.

Unlike before when the headline would name the Vice President’s action, Laolu Akande’s Press Release headline shouted, “BUHARI PRESIDENCY ACTIVATES $20B OGIDIGBEN GAS INDUSTRIAL PROJECT”. In place of “Buhari Presidency”, FG (Federal Government) could have been apt for the headline. But observers read what the news release was designed to achieve: remind citizens that the presidency was still Buhari’s.

The statement went lengths to inform readers how President Buhari instructed the VP to embark on the Niger-Delta tours. It reads in part; “Before he went on vacation, President Muhammadu Buhari had mandated the Vice President to embark on visits to oil-producing communities to demonstrate the resolve of this administration to the pursuit of a new vision for the Niger Delta.”

Yet critics have wondered why the President could not personally embark on the tour in nearly two years which he’s been on the saddle, if he considered the visitation important.

The Presidency has since struggled to spin the narrative that Buhari and Osinbajo are on a joint ticket. Special Adviser to President Buhari on Political Matters, Senator Babafemi Ojudu, said what Nigerians are seeing under Osinbajo’s temporary leadership reflects the maturity of government policies implemented earlier. He blasted those he called ‘mischief makers’ for promoting divisive tendencies in the government. Ojudu said; “The same people who said we never had economic team, no policy, nothing are the ones saying this. “It is now that the policies we are implementing are maturing and they are seeing the result. It is not a question of one person being better than the other person.

“There is nothing that has been done since the Vice-President started acting that is not something that started far back in the past. A good example is the Niger Delta initiative.

“The President called the Vice-President and said ‘I am giving you the mandate, go into the Niger Delta and meet with everyone who is a stakeholder, all the communities, talk to the militants and make sure you solve this problem for the benefits of Nigerians.’

“We are losing 1.2 million barrels of oil per day, all the gas pipelines powering the turbines are being blown up. And the President has said unless and until we resolve this problem we will not get out of recession. The VP took up the mandate and went to the Niger Delta, it is the initiative of Mr. President not that of the Vice-President.

“These are mischief makers, those who do not wish this country well, who are always promoting crisis, who will not allow the people to benefit from this democracy. They are the ones promoting this kind of divisive tendencies” the presidential aide said.

But analysts say service delivery is idiosyncratic and dependent on the individual involved. In Osinbajo, the nation is witnessing a leader who identifies with everyone, including states politically opposed to his party, whereas in Buhari, the nation saw a leader who insisted on only addressing issues affecting constituencies he considers politically friendly.

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