Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo is doing just fine in his acting capacity, writes Shola Oyeyipo
President Muhammadu Buhari, determined to see a Nigeria of his dream, might have cleverly borrowed from the quote of a former President of the United States of America, Ronald Reagan, who once said: “Surround yourself with great people; delegate authority; get out of the way”.
Closely folowing Buhari’s political trajectory, he probably has a penchant for picking eggheads and persons with equal commitment and passion for national development as his running mates. That can be established in his initial choice of Pastor Tunde Bakare as his running mate in one of his many attempts at the presidency.
As it is today, the choice of Professor Yemi Osinbajo as his deputy might have been informed by his ability to stand in for his principal at a crucial time like this, when the president is on an indefinite leave, apparently to attend to his health and, it is beginning to pay off.
Consistent with Section 145 (1) of the Nigerian Constitution, President Buhari, in his letter of Thursday, January 19, 2017, wrote to the National Assembly that during his 10-day leave, Osinbajo would act as president. And in another letter to the lawmakers at the expiration of the initial time-frame, the president elongated his leave indefinitely.
Though there have been complaints from a majority of Nigerians on the details of the president’s true state of health, which have been shrouded in secrecy, there have not been such about Osinbajo’s ability to stand in for his boss. The reason is simple. The vice president has been effectively representative.
Just as preempted in Section 145 of the 1999 constitution as amended, he is bringing some more pep into leadership and at the same time making some dexterous political moves that are capable of providing the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) an inroad into the South-east and South-south.
Already, government has shown more than a passing interest in sorting out the issue of resurgence of militancy in the Niger Delta region that has led to dwindling revenue from oil production. It was why Osibanjo visited Oporoza, headquarters of Gbaramatu Kingdom, home of Chief Government Ekpemupolo a.k.a Tompolo in Warri South-west Local Government Area of Delta State on a facts-finding mission in January.
The second leg of his peace and dialogue tour of the oil-rich Niger Delta region, which took him to Bayelsa, Rivers and Imo States has in fact had far-reaching impacts because the acting president did not only reaffirm government’s commitment to addressing the sufferings of the people of the Niger Delta, where Nigeria gets its major income, he openly agreed that the region has been largely neglected and promised that the federal government would discontinue the ugly trend.
Osibanjo, who went to Gbaramatu in company with the Delta State Governor, Senator Ifeanyi Okowa and Minister of State (Petroleum), Dr. Ibe Emmanuel Kachikwu, said the Niger Delta people have a genuine need as special economic zone for special developmental attention.
Later in Bayelsa on February 12, he assured the people that the federal government would provide rapid development for oil-producing communities in the region.
According to Osinbajo, while addressing the Bayelsa State stakeholders’ meeting, since oil is the dominant source of foreign exchange earnings in Nigeria, it is only proper that the country adds value to crude oil. To him, adding value to crude oil will bring enormous economic benefits to the oil-bearing communities.
The tour train berthed in Rivers State between February 13 and 14 in Port Harcourt, the state capital, where Osinbajo held another town hall meeting with governors, former governors, community leaders, women and various youth groups in the region.
He underscored the fact that Rivers was critical to the development and stability of the country. He also urged vandals of petroleum infrastructure to desist from act, assuring them that unlike at any time in the past, the current administration is prepared to ensure that the needs of the region are met.
It was at the Rivers State meeting he hinted that the federal government had secured funding of over $1 billion from Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) to develop the Niger Delta region, a piece of news well received by the people. He also noted that the template for the ‘Clean up Ogoni’ project of the federal government would be replicated in other oil producing communities affected by oil exploration.
From Rivers, Osinbajo made a stop in Imo State on a one-day working visit. There, he informed the people that he was there at the instance of President Buhari to consult with stakeholders in the oil producing communities of the Niger-Delta region, of which Imo is one.
Just as he did in Delta, Bayelsa and Rivers, Osinbajo, while at the palace of Imo State Chairman of Traditional Rulers Council, Eze Samuel Ohiri, owned up to the fact that the people of the state have been largely marginalised as an oil-bearing state of Nigeria, reiterating that the federal government would correct the anomaly.
Overall, that he was received with pomp and pageantry in the three states of the South-south is noteworthy. This is because the three states are controlled by opposition Peoples Democratic Party ((PDP). Again, that the people were convinced somewhat that government is truly ready to walk its talk is a pointer to an enduring peace in the region as leaders in the region are already enjoining the militants to give government the chance to make good its promise.
Bayelsa State Governor, Mr. Seriake Dickson, seized the opportunity to re-echo that dialogue and consultation remained the most effective solution to Niger Delta crisis as against the military option. That is an indication that the people of the region are ready for peace as long as their aspirations are met.
Chief Press Secretary to Governor Nyesome Wike of Rivers State, Simeon Nwakaudu, in an article written after the acting president’s visit, said “The popular leadership of Rivers State always keys into opportunities to attract development to the state,” and that “On issues concerning development, politics is relegated and the interest of the Rivers State enthroned for the benefit of the people.”
In Gbaramatu, renowned militant leader, Tompolo and his kinsmen rolled out the drums to welcome Osinbajo. Hence, some lessons could be learned from the Niger Delta tour. First, that irrespective of party affiliation, every Nigerian should have equal access to the federal government. The second is that the people in the oil-producing communities, who have been agitating for a better deal from government, could be pacified if government is committed to genuinely meeting their needs.
Above all, no one is oblivious of the fact that the South-south and the South-east regions are going to play very important roles in determining the next president in 2019. One politically savvy presidential hopeful is already covertly investing considerable time and energy into tilting the region towards himself, the more reason Osinbajo’s move is expedient.
The recent federal government activities in the regions could be a saving grace for the APC and the incumbent government, if they are considering winning the next presidential election. This is more so that issues of restructuring and true federalism are going to dominate the discourse ahead of the next election.
In addition to this was the recent tour of the two regions by the Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashola to access the state of the roads, housing projects and the power situation with a view to synching them with the new vision, after 16 years of PDP’s failure to provide succor in the regions.
Aside the Niger Delta region parley that promises to bring better rapport between the people and the federal government, Osinbajo got the support of the duo of the Senate President and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Dr. Bukola Saraki and Hon. Yakubu Dogora, to approve the federal government’s $1 billion Eurobond this quarter.
The Eurobond, amounting to $4.5 billion, formed part of the federal government’s three-year $30 billion external borrowing programme, which was rejected by the National Assembly last year.
But Saraki and Dogora reportedly told Osinbajo that the emergency session would not be necessary since the National Assembly had already approved $3 billion external borrowing, including the $1 billion Eurobond, in the 2016 Appropriation Act, so they assured Osinbajo that National Assembly’s rejection of the $30 billion borrowing plan would not impede the $1 billion Eurobond issue.
On Thursday, February 16, few days after its issue, the $1 billion Eurobond started trading on the London Stock Exchange (LSE) and the offer was oversubscribed about eight times, with the order book closing at approximately $7.7 billion. The listing also secured high quality investors’ support from the U.S. and Europe and it is expected to support Nigeria in financing its long-term infrastructure development.
Also, since he has been acting, Osinbajo has assented to seven bills passed by the National Assembly. The acts that were mainly amendments to the principal act include Oath (Amendment) Act 2017, Defence Space Administration Act, Veterinary Surgeons (Amendment) Act), National Film and Video Censors Board, Pension Rights of Judges, Nigerian Institute of Social Science Establishment Act and Mortgage Institutions Amendment Act.
Now 35 days since ailing President Buhari has been away, Osinbajo has been holding forth and headlining the news for several positive presidential initiatives. And in spite of assumptions that President Buhari was not disposed to the acting Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen, Osinbajo has forwarded his name to the Senate for confirmation as the substantive CJN.
Buhari, on November 10, 2016, appointed Onnoghen as acting CJN following the retirement of Justice Mahmud Mohammed at the attainment of the mandatory age of 70 years. The National Judicial Council had earlier forwarded Onnoghen’s name to the president as the new CJN based on the recommendation of the Federal Judicial Service Commission but he had remained in acting capacity until Osinbajo forwarded his name to the lawmakers for confirmation.
In another instance of personal example, the Vice-President rejected the new official residence built for the vice-president by the administration of Goodluck Jonathan. His Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Mr. Laolu Akande, said Osinbajo was satisfied with living in Aguda House built in the 1990s by the General Ibrahim Babangida administration
Although this one issue had almost created a friction between the executive and the legislature, however, while Buhari is still on medical vacation, Osinbajo, in a letter to the Senate re-presented the name of the acting Chairman, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, (EFCC), Ibrahim Mustapha Magu for screening and subsequent confirmation as the substantive Chairman of the anti-graft agency. From all indications, Magu is likely to scale through this time around.
Hinging its argument on the unknown health condition of President Buhari, and probably the fact that government seems to be running smoothly with the acting President, an international human rights organisation, Opinion Nigeria (ON), advised President Buhari to tender his resignation letter without delay to pave the way for Osinbajo as president. Whilst this demand may not be popular with a majority of Nigerians, there is the perception that Osinbajo might actually be taking directives from President Buhari.