Kayode Ajulo makes a case for proper delineation of the duties of the Vice President
There is no doubting that recent incidence in the inner sanctum of the Federal Executive arm of Nigerian government, which include sacking of Vice President Yemi Osibajo’s aides, removing some agencies under his office, accusations and counter accusations which are leading to suggestion of resignation seem to reveal that the Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo is being side lined and his power being whittled down.
These developments have generated hues and cries from different quarters and strata. The air is thick with raging, reactions, reprimands, all kinds of anathema and diatribe from political pundits, lackeys and constitutional legal minds.
This is looking very much like another season of blindness for Nigeria. That blindness doesn’t arise from lack of eyes. That blindness in question emanates from inability and refusal to see, analyse and evaluate the enormity of the constitutional problem currently confronting us as regards the powers of the Vice President.
In order not to throw out the baby with the bath water, it is important to pensively consider the issues at hand vis-à-vis constitutional provisions by proffering answers to the following issues;
Is the Vice President being side-lined?
I don’t agree with the insinuations that the Vice President is being side lined by the President neither is he in any ordeal. We speculate a lot and it is no surprise the spectators/observers are mostly excited. Whereas the insiders know better, it is about politics and law as in perception and reality.
Events in the past have shown that President Buhari and his kinsmen, (Emir of Daura in particular) see the Vice President Osinbajo as a confidant and someone trustworthy. At the same time one cannot rule out power struggles not between the President and Vice president but with other senior government officials. Good enough, we have a Professor of Law as Vice President while both the Chief of Staff to the President and the Secretary to Government of the Federation are senior lawyers and it is expected that constitutionalism would be their watch dog.
More so, the Vice President still performs his constitutional functions such as presiding over the National Economic Council and standing in for the President when the occasion demands.
Legally speaking, while thinking about this so called ordeal, the case of A.G Federation v. Alhaji Abubakar (2007) ALL FWLR (Pt. 389) 1264 comes to mind wherein the Supreme Court enunciated the duties of the Vice President.
The court held inter alia that:
A Vice President is not at liberty to refuse to carry out government decisions of which he personally disagrees, or to defy government orders or the authority of the President over him or otherwise to act as if he is an independent executive within the government…the moment a Vice President sees himself not any more as a member of the President’s team but as a team leader in his own right, the honourable thing for him to do is to resign.
Similarly section 148 of the Constitution confers a discretionary power on the President to assign responsibility for any business of the Government of the federation on the Vice President or Ministers of the Government.
It is clear that the office of the Vice President is generally in a precarious position and thus there is a need to amend the provisions of the Constitution in order to properly delineate the duties and functions of the Office of the Vice President.
Should VP Osinbajo be blamed for what is happening to him?
It is important to hint that the Vice President’s position is a precarious one which involves decision making that affects the lots of several people in different strata and affiliations.
In the case of Vice President Osinbajo, like others before him, Atiku Abubakar, Goodluck Jonathan and Namadi Sambo, there are several core constituencies that have conflicting expectations of him: while the President and those in the corridors of power expect unalloyed loyalty, his perceived constituency like Christians expects him to align with them in their allegations of a hidden plan by the government to Islamize the country. This essentially means that Osinbajo’s defence of Buhari in that regard, will not sit well with many people in that constituency.
In the same vein, some lawyers and Southerners expected him to join in the condemnation of the some allegations of violation of rule of law whereas his voice was nowhere to be heard.
Again when there was a generalized condemnation of RUGA in most parts of the South, the VP’s voice was muffled. Considering the manners the duties of the Vice President are delineated in the constitution it would be difficult for Osinbajo to take a stand against the decisions of the President nor exert any influence on the government
Thus, it would be inappropriate to blame the Vice President for being a loyalist to the government and rule of law.
Who is behind this whole fracas?
It is important to reiterate that President Muhammadu Buhari has always regarded Vice President Yemi Osinbajo as a confidant. However, at the same time one cannot rule out power struggles not between the President and Vice President but with other senior government officials who see Professor Osinbajo (who is a loyalist to the President and a staunch adherent to rule of law and governance) as an inhibiting factor to stop their manipulation of the President.
Moreso that 2023 is around the corner, it would not be far from the truth to state that some cabals are becoming very suspicious of him and his ambition. While it is natural for contending centres of power to devise schemes to cut their opponents and prospective opponents to size, what is intriguing in the whole Osinbajo scenario, is that Buhari, known for rewarding loyalty, has chosen to keep mute over the VP’s travails – despite the fact that much of Osinbajo’s troubles with his core constituencies are from defending him.
Is all over for the Vice President?
Truth be told, ‘the ordeal’ of the Vice president (if there is any) is not a tale of unrelieved woe; the present cloud though thick and intimidating, does have a silver lining. It is important to hint that impeaching a sitting Vice President is not an easy task, just like the Atiku Abubakar and Olusegun Obasanjo saga. And if matters come to head, and Osinbajo decides to retaliate (as Atiku did against Obasanjo), no one can predict the trajectory of such a fight or how it will end. One could only advise the Vice president to cool his jet, remain loyal and committed to his ideals for the sake of national interest.
Is this an Afenifere-Buhari Face-off?
While it seems that the Southwest has been pushed to the brink of a precipice by this Buhari- Osinbajo’ incidence, it is pertinent to hint that this is no time for red herrings and prevarications. What has been happening to Professor Yemi Osinbajo in the past weeks is not a Yoruba affair. Nor is it right to call it an “Afenifere-Buhari face-off”. It baffles the mind how persistently we fall prey to the divide-and-rule tactics! To be sure, we must admit that the actions and utterances of some Yoruba leaders have lent credence to this unfortunate tribalisation. The “our-son, our-own” syndrome, so prominent in the past couple of weeks, has aided an increasing sectionalisation of a national issue. It is quite ironical that the people who have suddenly emerged as Professor Yemi Osinbajo’s allies were once his enemies. The irony of politics!
Let us be clear on a point: I believe the issue at hand is one of constitutionalism and rule of law not sectional or tribal issue. We must eliminate the blindness which still obscures the truth of that position. It is pertinent to recall the Yar’ adua-Jonathan saga of 2010. We all stood for the prevalence of rule of law without bias and sentiment, and thanks to the National Assembly for doing the needful at such a time.
A Clarion call to the National Assembly and Council of State!
As it is, if there’s any infraction of the powers of the VP, the constitution creates mechanism to correct such anomaly, the National Assembly through its oversight function has powers to curtail the infraction in the presidency just as it did during the Yar’adua- Jonathan saga, hence the doctrine of check and balances.
Moreover, the Nigerian Council of State is an organ of the Nigerian Government recognized by section 153 of the 1999 constitution (as amended) with functions as delineated in paragraph 5 of Part 1 of the third Schedule to the Constitution. Its functions include advising the executive on policy making, there is therefore an imperative on the National Assembly and the Council of State to take the bull by its horn and adequately advise President Buhari as desperate malady requires desperate remedy.
From whatever the perspective it is viewed, whatever is happening thereof in the presidency as it relates to Vice President Yemi Osinbajo is normal. Firstly, as previously argued, the Constitution puts the powers and duties of the Vice President at the mercies of the President who decides when, how and what. The abiding lesson from recurrent ‘President-Vice President saga’ is that there is a loophole in the Constitution as regards the powers of the Vice President which are not clearly delineated.
A cosmic view of experiences of some State’s Deputy Governors are eyes opener on the discuss.
Secondly, the truth be told it is all about the game of politics, more importantly that 2023 is around the corner, it would not be far from the truth to state that some cabals within the corridors of power who see the grip of their powers being threatened and they are willing to use the Buhari-Osinbajo fracas as cannon fodder in their battle to retain control and further their interest.
*Ajulo was a National Secretary of Labour Party and the Principal Partner of Castle of Law, Abuja-Nigeria