By Abdulhamid Ibrahim
The relationship between top leaders such as presidents, governors and their deputies has sometimes become a matter of controversy in our climes and even beyond. Some presidents and their vice presidents as well as governors and deputies have sometimes had strained relations during their common term in office. Many Nigerians remember very well the topsy-turvy relationship between former president Olusegun Obasanjo and his vice Atiku Abubakar during their second term in office.
Consequently, in view of the fact of what has happened before in many circumstances, many watchers in the polity have also tried to look at the Buhari/Osinbajo relationship to analyse and characterise it.
However, what one has discovered is that these analysts and commentators on the Osinbajo/Buhari relationship have merely been armchair analysts who have ignored obvious reality, or have been pseudo analysts or outright mischief makers. There seems to be an obvious attempt by some persons in some quarters to try as much possible to continually paint a picture that is quite different from the reality on ground.
A thorough fact check on the Buhari/Osinbajo relationship since their common term in office is quite revealing. There have been several misleading claims but the major one has been the so called relegation of Osinbajo and his waning influence in the Buhari-led administration. But are these claims factual? Such analysts have pointed out to certain events and circumstances to back up their skewed narratives. But a thorough look at the facts on ground concerning the events they have used to their flawed narrative is quite revealing.
For instance, at the coronation of Aminu Ado Bayeroas the 15th Emir of Kano recently Osinbajo and the president’s chief of staff Ibrahim Gambari were present and read two different speeches. Purveyors of the narrative that Osinbajo had been relegated were quick to interpret and report on several media platforms that when “The crowd that gathered at the Sani Abacha Stadium on July 3, to witness the coronation– got more than they bargained for when Osinbajo (the nation’s number two citizen) and Ibrahim Gambari (Chief of Staff In the Office of the President) strode onto the stage at different times, claiming to represent President Muhammadu Buhari”, thus trying to infer confusion of roles or lack of confidence by the president on his vice.
However, the reality was that Osinbajo represented the President at the occasion and performed his role at the event whilst Gambari, on the other hand, attended the event in his capacity as an uncle to the celebrant. In fact, to set the record right, Osinbajo presented Buhari’s speech at the event while Gambari played a complementary role and as a pointer to the significance the presidency attached to the event he only read out a congratulatory letter to the new king signed by the President.
Another report that was obviously meant to to continue to drive the narrative of the nature of the Buhari/Osinbajo relationship in a particular direction was the claim in some quarters that Osinbajo influenced the nomination of Ibrahim Magu as EFCC boss. However, the fact was that the appointment of Magu and eventual sacking and replacement of Magu was done by Buhari sequel to allegations of impropriety against him.
Others have also inferred that since the 2019 elections as a sign of a relegation of Osinbajo in the presidency, the president has refused to hand over to Osinbajo as he had earlier done in on his first term when travelling outside the nation.
But checks reveal a different picture altogether. Whilst it is correct that Buhari has not handed over duties to Osinbajo since his second term began, a cursory observer will note that handing over in the previous term was done in line with Section 145 (1) of the 1999 constitution as amended that provides for such if the President will be away for 21 days. A letter sent to the Senate in 2016 reads: “In compliance with Section 145 (1) of the 1999 constitution as amended, I wish to inform the Distinguished Senate that I will be away on a short medical vacation from 6th-16th of June 2016, and while I am away, the Vice President (Osinbajo) will perform the functions of my office.” However ever since President Buhari was voted for the second term, he has not spent 21 days abroad, which means that any handing over is unconstitutional and actually not necessary. It does not point to a rift in any way.
Another claim that has emerged over time was that the president’s late chief of staff, Abba Kyari, sacked about 35 of Osinbajo’s aides without informing him. But was this really true? The fact was that no appointee of Osinbajo was sacked as insinuated and at no time did the President admit authorizing the sack of any aide of the vice president. In fact, in articles published by several media platforms such as Daily Independent and the NTA at the time, Buhari denied the termination of appointment of any aides and explained that the appointees were redeployed to a new ministry in the Presidency.
He had described the interpretations of his directives as a sack as ‘unfortunate’. On this note others also said that Osinbajo’s assistant pastor, Enelamah, was not re-appointed as minister of trade and investment for Buhari’s second term in office. But independent sources confirmed to this writer that in the first place, it was the late Chief of Staff to President Muhammadu Buhari, Abba Kyari, who was previously a banker before he ventured into politics that nominated Enelamah following their relationship from the banking industry.
Another claim that was made to drive the narrative of a rift between the president and his vice was that he sacked erstwhile director-general of the Department of State Services (DSS), Lawal Musa Daura and the president had no say in the matter and was thus angry with Osinbajo for doing so. But from insiders this writer gathered that such rumour should not be misconstrued as fact. In fact, Buhari not only had foreknowledge of the decision to sack Daura but that actually Osinbajo merely carried out the directive because of the Buhari’s Absence.
As proof if Buhari was not happy about it, he had powers to reappoint him. But did he?
When in August last year Buhari created the ministry for humanitarian affairs and disaster management and appointed Sadiya Umar Farouq as minister some said it was further proof of Osinbajo’s relegation. But factual evidence reveals that this was done in order for Osinbajo to adequately focus on a more tasking assignment and that was to manage a N2.3 Trillion Economic Sustainable Plan(ESP or Stimulus Plan) that was handed over to him by Buhari and not in any way a power move as indicated by the claims.
The goals of the NESP are job creation, pumping money into the economy and hopefully stop recession of any sort as well as support small businesses and Made-in-Nigeria products.
The reality on ground is that Osinbajo’s influence rather than wane has continued to grow over the years if we look at the actual facts on ground. For a start, apart from the constitutionally guaranteed roles for his office such as being chair of various committees, councils and agencies such as National Economic Council (NEC) , National Council on Privatization, National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), National Boundary Commission (NBC) Board , Border Communities Development Agency (BCDA), National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies Board, and the Debt Management Office (DMO) by presidential authority and preference Osinbajo has been given more assignments than any vice president in recent history as a result of an obviously good working relationship with the president.
In fact, since the time of Yar’Adua/Jonathan, Jonathan/Sambo no vice president has been saddled with so much responsibilities as Osinbajo which implies implicit confidence in him by his boss, the president. The facts pointing to this speak for themselves. Osinbajo was also appointed by Buhari to chair the following: Presidential Enabling Business Environment Council (PEBEC) , Niger Delta Power Holding Company (NDPHC) Board , Industrial Policy and Competitiveness Advisory Council (IPCAC), National Council on Skills, National Research and Innovation, and National Council on Nutrition, National Addressing System Council as well as Economic Sustainability Committee to ensure/execute a sustainability plan to deal with the fall out of the COVID-19 pandemic and ensure the economy continues to thrive post- coronavirus.
Others include Power Sector Reform Working Group. Osinbajo also leads the Power Sector Reform Coordination group after the President gave his approval for the composition of the group. The group’s work is to review ownership of electricity distribution companies as well as harmonize various efforts by the Federal Government and the 36 States, through the National Economic Council (NEC), on power sector reform and to oversee the design and implementation of a well-coordinated roadmap for the sector, National Steering Committee (NSC) of the National Poverty Reduction with Growth Strategy (NPRGS).
This NPRGS is part of the Nigerian government’s plan to lift 100 million Nigerians out of poverty in 10 years, Executive, Legislative Party Consultative Committee
In any case; a usually taciturn president Buhari on March 8, during the 64th birthday of Osinbajo in a report by Vanguard newspapers passed a vote of implicit confidence which suggests a tacit endorsement of him for the big job.
His words: “I’m proud to have selected YemiOsinbajo as my running mate. He has given a good account of himself since our journey began in 2015,”
Buharihad also described Osinbajo as “a reliable and dedicated deputy’’
Buhari stated that “Osinbajo is not only admirably competent but also exudes confidence and passion in the performance of his job”.
According to the president, the vice-president is a cool-headed gentleman, who puts the interest of Nigeria above other narrow considerations.
“Vice-President Osinbajo is an incredibly patient politician, who demonstrates remarkable intellectual and mental energy in the discharge of his duties.”
It is self-evident that Buhari not only has a good working relationship with Osinbajo but also has implicit confidence on him and his capacity. This may well be a tacit endorsement of Osinbajo by president Buhari for the big job in the days to come if you know what I mean.
•Abdulhamid Ibrahim Musa writes from Kano