ACTING PRESIDENCY (SERIES III)
•Creates new spirit of calculated change
By Levinus Nwabughiogu
As if he was jolted by the barrage of criticisms that had trailed his docility in the last two weeks, he has started working as the Acting President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, in the third week of his presidency in an acting capacity, engaged a different gear. Sunday Vanguard, which has been following his activities since the departure of President Muhammadu Buhari to London on medical vacation on January 19, 2017, brings you the calculated changes spearheaded by Osinbajo.
Of course, he may not have expected the stretch of his emergency tenure beyond February 6. For him, he was done and, so, was ready to hands off power and recoil to his shell as Vice President.
If there was any other event he was expecting any sooner after his second and hitherto final week as the Acting President, it was the launch of the Economic Growth and Recovery Plan, EGRP, of the present administration, a function he had since announced in far away Davos, Switzerland, during the World Economic Forum, WEF, on January 17, 2017 meant to harness appropriate measures that would get Nigeria out of the economic woods.
Like always, he had expected his boss, President Buhari, to declare the launch open. But little did he know that his acting career was not over, yet.
Recall that in his press statement on January 19, the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Mr. Femi Adesina, categorically told Nigerians that President Buhari would resume work on February 6. To them, the date was sacrosanct and Osinbajo was also apparently marking time.
But just when it was about time, barely 12 hours to break of the day, the Presidency reneged on its own promise of February 6 and later announced an indefinite date for the return, this time, leaving everyone on tenterhooks; and so further stretched the imagination of Nigerians whose sensibilities had been assaulted by all manner of rumors about Buhari’s wellbeing.
Apparently, the Acting President was equally greeted with the surprise of the indefinite extension of the medical vacation of boss in London, United Kingdom, as he had no choice than to chair the Consultative Forum EGRP, held at the Old Banquet Hall of the State House on Monday – the day his boss had earlier been expected to resume work.
Osinbajo’s new spirit
Obviously, his actions that Monday and subsequent days of the week stamped a strong impression of the arrival of a new spirit within and around the spirit of acting. At least, for once, he needed to “act” in the true sense of the word.
Monday 6, 2017-A day with Protesters
Osinbajo showed zeal and dexterity. He also displayed a great deal of concern for the plight and predicament of the ordinary Nigerian even though pity, without action, has never solved the problem of hunger or education or anything.
Like a philosopher once noted, hope is better served as breakfast than as dinner.
While he and other top government functionaries, which included, but was not limited to, the Minister of Budget and National Planning, Senator Udo Udoma, were deliberating at the State House, the heavens were seriously cloudy outside. From Lagos to Ibadan down to other parts of the country, a flurry of protests against him and his principal took over the streets.
Abuja was not an exception.
Nigerians in their numbers protested against the severe economic hardship and hunger across the country. They also protested against epileptic power situation, the depressed economy, the all-time high inflation and more especially, the all talk and no action stance of the federal government.
Interestingly, also, the protest rally took place on a day the Budget and National Planning Minister told the crowd at the EGRP Forum that they were still consulting to get the inputs of the private sector operatives to solve the economic quagmire.
Udoma’s speech at the event evidently revealed a government that is totally handicapped in finding solutions to the problem when it is considered that since the second quarter of last year when the economy became sick, the Nigerian government is still consulting.
And so, when it was his time to speak, Osinbajo addressed the protesters directly even though they were not in the hall.
He said that their message has been well received by the federal government:
“I am pleased to welcome you, our partners in the private sector to this very important consultations on the ERGP. We are in a serious economic situation and the President was particularly concerned about the lot of the common man. And I quote him, ‘Recession today for many… for some it means not being able to pay school fees, for others not being able to afford high cost of rice and millet and for most of our young people recession means joblessness…’
“I, for one, have been across the states and, even today, some people are out on the street protesting. Many of our people are saying the same thing that things are hard, things are difficult. But what I will like to say to every Nigerian is that ‘we hear you loud and clear’.
“The government is one that is determined to give the ordinary man a fair deal. We are determined to recover the economy. You have a right to live well and decently, demand for a better economy and we are committed to making that happen.”
But Osinbajo wouldn’t end his speech without pricking the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, as he stated that the years of destruction cannot be corrected overnight.
He continued: “Years of deterioration cannot be remedied over night but again, I must emphasize that it’s our business and duty to ensure that we put the Nigerian economy on the path of sustained growth and that is exactly what we are determined to do”, he said.
He also gave the highlights of the government efforts at restoring the economy on the path of sustainable growth.
He added that the social intervention programme, SIP, which included payment of N5,000 to the poorest citizens on monthly basis was one of the ways to cushion the effects of the harsh realities of the times.
“We have in the past 18 months intervened three times to states to enable them have enough resources to pay salaries and the last intervention was in December when we paid the Paris club refund to the states. This is money that the federal government was owing states since 2005 and even oil was selling at 115 Dollars per barrel, this debt was not paid.
“The president insisted when he was going to pay that money to the states that at least 50 percent of it must be to pay salaries of workers. We intend to ensure, of course, that that is what is done. Many of the states were able to pay salaries and backlog of pensions in December because of that particular fund that was made available to the states.
“Those have been the concerns of the President and the Federal Government, to ensure that as much as possible, the most vulnerable in our society, those who earn salaries, those who have no work, market women, the man on the street take as little of this pain as possible.
“The home grown feeding programme has started in several states; it will provide opportunity for farmers all across the country. We are also providing credit facility to 1.6 million traders and artisans”, he said.
I am not under pressure to resign/Only President can disclose his health status
The Acting President prompted an enigma of himself when later in the day, he yearned for a press interview with State House Correspondents. No one could preempt him. But then, anxiety stood tall.
Leaving off a closed door meeting with the National Chairman of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, Chief John Oyegun, the Special Adviser to the President on Political Matters in Vice President’s Office, Sen. Babafemi Ojudu, and the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Foreign Affairs and Diaspora Matters, Hon. Abike Dabire, Osinbajo said he won’t be cowed to resign his office.
He made it loud and clear that he ran for his office on the same electoral ticket with President Buhari and that Nigerians who voted for him had not asked him to resign.
He also said the President was hale and hearty contrary to speculations that he was critically ill or even dead.
Revealing that he had a long telephone conversation with the President, Osinbajo stated that the President was well and alive.
But the Acting President failed to disclose the nature of the President’s ailment, saying that the information was only at the discretion of the President to make public.
He said: “I am not under no pressure to resign. I was voted for by the people of this nation, myself and Mr President and so the people of this nation have not asked us to resign. I am absolutely not under any pressure whatsoever. The truth is that there has been no pressure from any source asking me to resign
“The President is hale and hearty. I spoke to the President just this afternoon and we had a long conversation. He was interested in knowing about the budget process and how far we have gone and the meeting today with the private sector and the economic recovery growth plan and I informed him about the protest march and feedback about what people are saying about the economy. He is in good shape.
“Just like he said in his letter to the National Assembly, he needs to go for a cycle of tests and once he sees the test results and gets medical advice, we expect him very soon.
Tuesday, February 7: a day with Governor Mimiko/PFN
Osinbajo’s dairy for Tuesday was apparently less hectic. The only visible assignment he had in the office was the reception he accorded the outgoing Governor of Ondo State, Olusegun Mimiko, who met with him behind closed doors.
Mimiko later told journalists in an interview that he was in the Villa to invite the Acting President to Akure to commission some projects.
Later that same Tuesday, Osinbajo, who wouldn’t want to lose touch with his religious biases as a Senior Pastor of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, RCCG, left Abuja for Benin, Edo State, for the 14 Biennial Conference of Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria, PFN.
Oonoghen’ name sent to Senate for Confirmation as Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN
Perhaps, one piece of action which has become the signature move of the Acting President was the sending of the name of Justice Walter Ooneghe, Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria, to the Senate for confirmation as substantive CJN. Since the appointment of the CJN in acting capacity in November, 2016, by President Buhari, speculations had been rife that the President wouldn’t send the name for authentication. But just at the twilight of the expiration of his acting tenure, Osinabjo, a professor of Law, Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN, and former Attorney-General of Lagos State, forwarded the name to the Senate, thereby putting to rest every agitation and ethno-sentimental palpitation.
Wednesday, February, 8, was a day for the weekly ritual of the Federal Executive Council, FEC, meeting at the Presidential Villa and the Acting President was on hand to chair the meeting.
It was a day the presidency also formally confirmed that Onneghen’s name had reached Senate.
But, however, the day didn’t end without Governor Okorocho of Imo State, the Emir of Kano, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, paying a visit to Osinbajo at the presidential Villa.
Thursday, February 9, was also a day Osinbajo received organised Labour leaders who were in a protest rally at the Villa supposedly over the recession. The President of Nigerian Labour Congress, NLC, Comrade Ayubu Wabba, his Trade Union Congress, TUC, counter-part, Kaigama amongst others were selected by their colleagues on the outer part of the Villa to move in with Osinbajo in what later appeared to be a solidarity visit to him in for a chat in his conference room.
The Acting President practically stole the show and preached the anti-corruption gospel. Later, the labour leaders, who led a protest, were seen in pictures in broad smiles with the Acting President. Rally over.
Similarly, the day saw the Oba of Lagos visiting the Acting President whom he said was his law lecturer at the University. While thanking God for the exalted position, the Oba also prayed for Buhari’s safe return to the country.
Later that day, Osinbajo held a closed door meeting some officials and appointees of government.
Those who attended the meeting included the Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed, Inspector General of Police, IGP, Ibrahim Idris, Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami.
Others were Chairman Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), Ekpo Nta, the Department of State Services (DSS), Acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC), Ibrahim Magu and the DG Nigeria Processing Zone Authority (NIPZA).
The agenda of the meeting was not made public.
On Friday, February 10, the Presidential Villa was almost empty as the Acting President left Abuja for Bayelsa to continue Federal Government/Niger Delta dialogue, a peace initiative to restore calm in the restive Niger Delta region.
In between the events that marked Osinbajo’s hectic week, there were also meetings after meetings that were done in camera. One truth no one can lie about Osinbajo is the fact that his office is a venue for meetings and meetings for which the professor is always happy to chair.
While he would be applauded for acting up in his third week, one also expects that he would zero in on real matters of governance but with so much caution and tact.
Speculations on Buhari’s return heavy on Saturday
Meanwhile, just like last week, speculations were rife of President Buhari’s possible return later on Saturday. But then, across the land, more prayers were being offered for the quick recovery and safe return of the President even as another week begins for Osinbajo in the event of President’s Buhari continued stay abroad.