Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo at the weekend dismissed allegations of nepotism and clannishness levelled against President Muhammadu Buhari, arguing that Southerners and Christians have benefitted more than Northerners and Muslims in his cabinet.
Osinbajo, who made this claim in an interview with online journalists whose excerpts were made available to THISDAY late yesterday, said there were in fact more Christians in the Federal Executive Council (FEC) than Muslims.
Osinbajo argued that in the South-east, for instance, four of the five states have substantive ministerial portfolios, while the seven states of the North including the presidentâ€™s state, Katsina, do not have substantive ministerial positions.
From the South-west, the vice-president said for the first time in Nigeria’s history, only one person holds three ministerial positions of power, works and housing, in addition to two other major portfolios of finance and communications held by the region.
He also insisted that his home state of Ogun, for instance, has the highest number of chief executive officers of agencies of government, adding, however, that in the area of appointments into the security agencies, the president has promised to take a second look at the appointments.
Against this backdrop, the vice-president described the allegations of ethnic and religious bigotry levelled against his boss as nothing but a narrative.
â€œLook at the cabinet, for example, from the point of view of religion, it has an equal number – 18 Christians, 18 Muslims. But we have the Secretary to the Government of the Federation as well as the Head of Service who are Christians.
â€œSo, we have 20 Christians to 18 Muslims; thatâ€™s the structure of the cabinet. So, if you take that narrative you may argue that perhaps the Christians have the upper hand. Thatâ€™s a possible narrative.
â€œLet us look a little deeper into that, so there are those who may argue, for example, that the North has the upper hand or perhaps one section has the upper hand in the cabinet as one narrative.
â€œThe South-east, for example, has five states. Four of the South-eastern states have senior ministers; all of them, except one, who is Minister of State for Education.Â
â€œIn assigning particular portfolios, all these were looked at. In the North, seven Northern states have no senior minister, including the presidentâ€™s home state, Katsina. So, itâ€™s a narrative, depending on how you want to run it.
â€œI will give you another example: I am from the South-west and there are people who will say â€˜I am from the South-west, the North has everythingâ€™.
â€œBut the South-west, for the first time in the history of this country, has one minister who is in charge of three ministries: Power, Works and Housing. The Ministers of Finance and Communications are also from the South-west. These are critical ministries. So, you can run the narrative in whichever way that you choose.
â€œThere are those who will say, for instance, look at the number of CEOs of agencies of government; the highest number of CEOs in our nation today comes from Ogun State, the state has the largest number.
â€œThere are those who will say that this is his (vice-president) state. So, you can run the narrative, depending on how you want to run it.
â€œThe president has admitted that, yes there are situations where you can find certain things as true and he intends to have a look at that.Â
â€œFor instance, youâ€™ve given the example of security positions and he said he is going to take a second look at it. I believe that is the way to go because you can run any narrative that will suit the figures you are showing. And that is where we have a legal process.Â
â€œThere are people who donâ€™t know that the number of CEOs from Anambra State is more than the number of CEOs from Katsina State or anywhere else, except Ogun,â€ he stated.
On the 2018 budget, the vice-president said the government kept its own part of the agreement with the National Assembly to return the country to the January-December fiscal calendar by submitting the budget early enough, insinuating that the delay on its passage was caused by the National Assembly.
â€œWe have a democracy that has, as you know, three arms. The two relevant arms for the budget passage are the executive and legislature. If you recall when I was acting president, I signed the 2017 budget and, at that time, I made the announcement with the full consensus of the National Assembly that from 2018, we are going to have a budget that is going to apply in January and end in December the normal financial year.
â€œWe agreed that we will submit our proposal in good time, and we did that in the first week of November. The president did so. We fulfilled that part of the agreement. So, the budget is now with the National Assembly and there is very little we can do to control that. Thatâ€™s the system that we have, Osinbajo explained.
Also, on the rampant killings in various parts of the country, the vice-president described the situations as tragic, pointing out that no degree of condolences that could compensate for the loss of human lives.
â€œLet me say it first that no amount of condolences can compensate for the loss of lives, whether in Calabar, Mambilla or Benue or where people were killed, or in Adamawa or Zamfara, any of these states.Â
â€œThe Benue killings were one set of killings far too much; there is no amount of condolences that can compensate for that. And I want to say that itâ€™s a massive tragedy.
â€œBut the question that you seem to ask and Iâ€™ve been to Zamfara, Iâ€™ve been to Adamawa after the killings took place: There are those who said, â€˜Oh, why donâ€™t you visit the Fulani settlement, why do you visit only where Christians are?â€™Â
â€œI even visited Benue in September where there have been killings before, then I visited them when the floods took place and we looked at all the issues and tried to address many of these.
â€œThere have been several of these issues in different places, more recently Dapchi. We have expressed condolences, but no amount of condolence would do.
â€œSo, we have to address the security question in a much more robust way; that the police are able to do their jobs effectively. We have deployed the military to Kaduna â€“ two battalions to Kaduna. In the Benue and Taraba axis, we have the 93 Battalion and we have 72 Special Forces. We also have full concentration in Taraba and all of that, and by the way, the military is fighting in most of the North-east.
â€œSo, there is a situation where the military is overstretched. So, I think that the most important thing is first of all to ensure they actually address the security of the people,â€ he observed.
Osinbajo also acknowledged that Nigerians would like to see the leadership of the country grieving with families that have lost loved ones to violent attacks, or whose daughters have been abducted like the Dapchi schoolgirls.
â€œLet me say that I definitely agree with you, the more places that we can go to the better. But I made a point earlier that we also have to address the serious concerns that people have.
â€œWe have to address those concerns; we have to address the rehabilitation concerns. I am going round and the president is also going round, there is no question at all and I agree that if we go to all these places it would be so much better,â€ he said.
On Nigeriaâ€™s recent downgrade on the Corruption Index by Transparency International, the vice-president said: â€œI think that by even Transparency Internationalâ€™s own assessment, Transparency International uses nine different indices to come to a conclusion.
â€œIn four out of those indices, Nigeria moved up, in another four Nigeria stabilised, but dropped in only one index. So in aggregation, it (T.I) then decided that it has fallen by a certain number of points below where we were.
â€œBut I think that the important thing to bear in mind about Nigeriaâ€™s anti-corruption fight is that the government has done what it ought to do by focusing on grand corruption.
â€œGrand corruption is the type we experienced years before when, for example, $15 billion was lost in defence contracts. Two to three weeks to elections (in 2015), N100 billion in cash was taken out, and again $293 million in cash. Thatâ€™s the kind of impunity we had to address.
â€œAnd of course you are also familiar with the scam that went on in the NNPC at the time; the so-called statutory contracts, thatâ€™s grand corruption. That is the corruption that crippled the economy of the country.â€