…First week of co-ordinating activities of govt :The return of an Acting President
By Levinus Nwabughiogu
From January 19 to March 10, 2017, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, Nigeria’s Vice President, functioned as Acting President due to President Muhammadu Buhari’s medical vacation in London.
At the moment, Osinbajo is also having a second shot at the office on the account of another medical trip by the President. But his second missionary journey started on a most controversial note. To some persons, he is functioning as “Acting President”, while to others, he is a “coordinating” Vice President. Sunday Vanguard in this piece examines whether the development has rubbed off negatively or positively on the activities of the new helmsman in his first week.
The words were so loud and clear. They were devoid of any ambiguity. They formed a direct response to a feeling in some quarters of the polity that there is no love lost between him and his principal.
Incidentally, the timing was most appropriate. The occasion well attended and the venue homely.
And so, in torrents, he let the words out:
He said: “I feel very much at home in Katsina. Moreso, because this is the State of the President who has taken me as a brother.”
“In fact, the President has taken me as a son in the way he treats me.”
Yet, he was not done.
“The amount of responsibilities President Buhari has given me shows he seriously believes we can live together as brothers”, he added.
Not losing knowledge of his boss’ current health challenges, the man, a pastor of a church, rendered a salient prayer.
“I pray the Lord will preserve our President to continue to lead as the nation has voted him to do. He seriously believes in Nigeria’s unity,” he said.
That was Professor Yemi Osinbajo smithing words on Thursday in Katsina during the launch of Medium, Small and Micro Enterprises, MSMEs, apparently responding to feelers that his relationship with President Muhammadu Buhari had gone south and awry.
Osinbajo had had a lot to contend with in the first week of another round of his Acting Presidency.
Hardly had President Buhari left the country Sunday night, than the letter he transmitted to the National Assembly in fulfillment of Section 145 of the 1999 constitution (as amended), announcing his departure to London for a medical follow-up, caused sprawled ripples.
Why? The letter was worded unusually in the reverse form when evaluated in the light of the previous ones the President had written to the two chambers of the National Assembly.
In the erstwhile transmissions, Buhari had been categorical, placing his Vice in the acting capacity.
For instance, in the first leg of the medical sojourn on January 19 for which the President later spent some 50 days and returned to the country on March 10, the letter he wrote to the House of Representatives dated January 18, 2017, was clearly unambiguous.
It reads: “In compliance with Section 145 (1) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), I wish to inform the Honorable House that I will be away… and while I am away, the Vice President will perform the functions of my office”.
Even when he couldn’t make it back on March 6 following his doctors advise, the President was also concise in another letter he wrote to inform the Senate of an extension.
The part of the letter read: “I am therefore extending my leave until the doctors are satisfied that certain factors are ruled out. In the circumstances, the Vice President will continue to act on my behalf”.
In his latest letter to the Senate, read by the President of the Upper Chamber, Bukola Saraki, on Tuesday, President Buhari stated thus: “In compliance with Section 145 (1) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), I wish to inform the distinguished Senate that I will be away…
“While I am away, the Vice President will coordinate the activities of the government. Please accept, the distinguished Senate President, the assurances of my highest consideration.”
The unusual phrasal import here which ignited some combustion is “While I am away, the Vice President will coordinate the activities of the government.”
And swiftly, Senator Moa Ohuabunwa representing Abia North picked holes with the letter, saying that the wording put Vice President Osinbajo as merely a “coordinating” Vice President instead of Acting President.
Though Ohuabunwa was ruled out of order by Saraki, the barrage of concerns generated by the letter has refused to fizzle out. Even now.
But much as the debate on whether the letter was mischievously crafted goes, the Federal government has also refused to be dragged into it.
On Wednesday, the Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed, while fielding questions from State House correspondent at the end of the meeting of the Federal Executive Council, FEC, dismissed the argument, saying it was a needless distraction.
“It’s a needless controversy. It’s just a distraction. The operating sentence is that in compliance of section 145(1), any other word used is not relevant”, he simply said.
Meanwhile, Section 145 reads thus: “Whenever the President transmits to the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives a written declaration that he is proceeding on vacation, or that he is otherwise unable to discharge the functions of his office, until he transmits to them a written declaration to the contrary such functions shall be discharged by the Vice-President as Acting President.”
Incidentally, the issue which dominated the public discourse all through the week unfortunately produced two differing camps.
While one camp believes that the letter was mischievously written, ostensibly by members of the so called emerging “cabal”, to make Osinbajo redundant even in Buhari’s absence, the other camp also strongly believes that Senator Ohuabunwa and all those who shared his arguments squarely acted on ignorance.
The position of this camp is that the preponderance of the spirit and letters of Section 145 fulfilled by President Buhari overrides the slant or wording of his letter.
Ohuabunwa and the feeling of deja vu/paranoia
There is also a school of thought that won’t be quick to condemn the actions of Senator Ohuabunwa. This is because, a feeling of deja vu and paranoia is actually hanging in the air. Nigerians in 2010 traveled almost the same route that is playing out currently. Late President Musa Yar’Adua was sick and obviously, a group referred to as the cabal held the country hostage, yet, submitting that the President was active at his duty post.
In this wise, not a few Nigerians have become circumspect in the light of President Buhari’s current health status.
They, therefore, believe that Ohuabunwa was right to have made the observation to help dictate early prints and grips of the so called cabal on the presidency.
To these people, the feeling is that it was not President Buhari that prepared the letter. It was the cabal that may have also hoodwinked the President into signing it, thinking it would serve their selfish motives. And so, Ohuabunwa may have been right after all
Cabal doesn’t exist-Osinbajo
At a time when almost everyone appeared to have systematically come to the rescue of the Acting President, he was unperturbed and unruffled. For him, there are no cabals within the Presidential Villa.
“Cabals are meant to be secret. I am still looking for those guys. Honestly, I don’t know where they are. I can’t tell you that I know where those fellows are”, Osinbajo was quoted to have told The Cable, an online medium and some other select Journalists recently.
Activities of an Acting President in his first week
Meanwhile, whether you call him Acting President or “Coordinating” Vice President, the truth remains that Osinbajo was busy in his first week of superintending over the affairs of the nation in Buhari’s absence.
One thing no one can take away from him is his ability to hold meetings. Almost at all times, Osinbajo is in one meeting or the other, open or closed. In fact, even when he is alone, he is also at a meeting with himself.
To this end, it has become extremely difficult to notice any face-off between him and his principal.
*Monday, May 8 – Third Presidential Quarterly Business Forum/Thank-you visit by Borno State Elders
On Monday, May 8, Osinbajo presided over the third edition of Presidential quarterly Business Forum held at the Old Banquet Hall of the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
Later in the evening, he also received Borno Elders led by Governor Kassim Shetima, who had come to express their gratitude to the Presidency on the safe return of 82 Chibok girls.
*Tuesday, May 9- Niger Delta Inter-Ministerial meeting
On Tuesday, Osinbajo held Niger Delta Inter-Ministerial meeting. There was also another meeting involving Agip oil management team, later.
*Wednesday, May 10-FEC meeting
On Wednesday, Osinbajo was on hand to chair the Federal Executive Council, FEC, meeting at the Presidential Villa.
The remarkable thing he did on Wednesday was that he reverted the time for FEC to 10am from 11am.
The usual time was 10am but was changed to 11 am by President Muhammadu Buhari after his return from London on medical vacation since March 10, 2019.
But having gone back to London for a medical follow-up on Sunday night, Osinbajo decided to restore the meeting time to 10am – seems businesslike.
That same day, Osinbajo received his immediate predecessor, former Vice President Namadi Sambo, at the Presidential Villa. This got some tongues wagging.
*Thursday, May 11
It was a day for the Launch of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises, MSMEs, clinic in Katsina State – President Buhari’s State. And the Acting President performed the ritual there.
*On Friday, May 12, Osinbajo inaugurated a 9-member board of the Nigeria Sovereign Investment Authority, NSIA.
Later in the evening, he jetted out to the city, perhaps, for the weekend.
With these, Osinbajo concluded his activities in the first week of his Acting Presidency.
It would be foolhardy for anyone to think that an Osinbajo would openly say that Buhari didn’t make him an Acting President assuming that the letter to the National Assembly was as mischievous as insinuated in some quarters.
Also, the Acting President would be the last person to accept a face-off between him and his boss. His comments in Katsina were apt and you would not have expected him to say more even if the situation is not healthy.
But in all of these, one thing is remarkable: there is no known aggression or animosity going on between the two leaders at the moment and none is being envisaged as both men appear to have understood themselves from the beginning of their political union. May God see them through.