By Rotimi Fasan
IT’S been more than one month now since Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo, assumed the status of Acting President. Even when this is not the first time he would be holding forth for the president, it is the first time he would be doing it for this long. Except in an actual state of incapacitation it is doubtful if anyone could envisage a situation like this when the president would be away from office for over a month without being declared ill or incapacitated. But by embarking on a medical vacation which has been indefinitely extended on the advice , Nigerians have been told, of his British doctors President Buhari has afforded his deputy an opportunity to demonstrate what he could do if given the chance. Before now, Osinbajo had operated in the shadows of President Muhammadu Buhari. This is the way things should be as the presidential system of government is a monarchy of sorts that does not leave room for two heads.
The Vice president in such a system is a ceremonial leader who can only operate at the behest of the president and to the extent the president permits. Which thus makes the office of the vice president that of a sinecure. The vice president performs delegated duties, only such responsibilities assigned him or her by the president. But President Buhari is not a stranger to such a system of delegated responsibility. As a military head of state he had a deputy, Tunde Idiagbon, that many Nigerians thought had as much power as the head of state. This was in a dictatorship that had no room for democratic niceties and in which the word of the leader was itself the law. Yet Idiagbon functioned apparently with the full support of Buhari. Although others with a revisionist mindset have had cause to read things differently but that Buhari gave Idiagbon a wide latitude within which he shared the power of the leader with him was a sign of self-confidence. The same self-confidence, even if unintended, appears to be at work now.
Osinbajo has never looked the part of the over-ambitious; he appeared content to operate from behind Buhari where he belongs constitutionally. But the dramatic manner in which the president’s medical vacation of ten days has now been extended indefinitely has thrust him into the limelight in a way he may not personally relish. For it is turning out that some Nigerians are already making invidious comparisons between his mode of leadership and that of his principal. Yet it would amount to self-deceit for anyone to deny that both men have different approach to governance. This ought not to be surprising for being two different people with different background there cannot but be some difference in the way both men see matters. So far Osinbajo appears to be taking the right step forward. Without courting attention he has stepped into his new role with a measure of self assurance. He has been up and about, stepped up his activities and been a little more active than before the president decided to extend his vacation. To do otherwise would only invite unfavourable comments about how the country has been grounded by the absence of the president.
But thank God that history seems to have taught us all a lesson, making the president to transmit a letter to the National Assembly handing over governance to his deputy. Otherwise we might by now have found ourselves where we were in 2010. As I said above, Mr. Yemi Osinbajo, seems to be doing the right things in the view of many. He has moved things a bit forward from where the president left them. He has made conciliatory overtures to estranged sections of the country that felt alienated by the stance of President Buhari. He has visited the Niger-Delta, opened dialogue with and engaged leaders of the region in a way many had expected Buhari to. His visit to the South-east could kickstart the process of bringing that section of the country back on the same page with the rest of the country. He may likewise have doused the tension that was rising following the failure of President Buhari to forward, in time, the name of Walter Onnoghen to the National Assembly as the next Chief Justice of the Federation. Osinbajo has since done this. As luck would also have it the naira seems to be on the upward swing against the dollar at a time the price of oil seems to be stabilising to an appreciable level in the international market.
In all, Acting President Osinbajo seems a lucky man and presents the image of a leader that is attentive to his surroundings. This might be endearing him to those who felt alienated by Buhari and some of these individuals and groups have been drawing comparisons between him and Buhari in a way that less confident people might find invidious. Indeed some of the comparisons appear designed for that very purpose- to rub off badly on Buhari and his supporters. This could be a bait to distract the administration from following what looks like a promising path to national healing and economic recovery. It is up to those close to the president and other members of this administration to see whatever commendable steps the Acting President takes not as personal success but a credit to his principal and the administration he heads. There is no competition between Buhari and Osinbajo especially as Nigerians know who they handed the mandate to govern them for the next four years beginning from May 2015.
We are not in a zero sum situation where the gains recorded for the current government by Osinbajo is viewed or made to look like a loss for Buhari. Anyone who has good thoughts for the people of this country ought to welcome any ideas that could move this country forward irrespective of its source or who takes credit for it. This is where the closest minders of the president, the so-called cabal of mainly four men around him, have to be very careful. A lot depends on them and the vibes they create around the president. Already reports are emerging of them shielding family, close friends and associates of the president from him. Beyond the need to keep him from the disturbances of the political throng out for eye service no good can come of such action. The president has taken steps to ensure history does not “repeat” itself and any unelected bystander trying to do otherwise cannot be a friend of Nigeria. Nigerians know Buhari, they know Osinbajo and the constitution recognizes both men. Any other person or group that tries to insert themselves between these two men is an intruder and should be so treated.