By Ifedayo Peters
Many posit that the impact of favourable change is completely dependent on the degree of damage done to its target. But what if the target is a country with the seventh largest growing population in the world, with an average annual GDP of N224 billion? Surely there are lots of other variables to consider.
To Nigerians, and indeed a good percentage of the African community, Yemi Osinbajo isn’t an unfamiliar name, it belongs to the most popular Vice President in Nigeria’s democratic history. Having an academic, who doubles as a Christian spiritual leader in such high position of power seemed an impossible feat for the Nigerian political climate as at 2014, when Professor Yemi Osinbajo assumed office as deputy to President Muhammadu Buhari in APC’s historic election victory. Prior to this time, many erroneously believed that politics was a game of the ruthless, and so this brilliant anomaly excited us all.
This arguably also formed our lofty and unrealistic expectations of the man and his office as Second Citizen of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. From arguments I have heard and positions I have read on social media, it is clear that many Nigerians are green behind the ears in regards to just how much statutory power the Office of the Vice President wields, with a fair percentage of Nigerians positing that Vice President Osinbajo has been sidelined, since he ostensibly does not act or speak up on topical issues. This of course is false, even if all you examine is his role in the permanent disbandment of SARS and ensuring justice for victims of police brutality through the Judicial Panels of Inquiry.
Simply put according to our Constitution, a Nigerian Vice President has no definitive power, and besides chairing a few agencies by statute, they are to only perform duties delegated to them by the President. In compliance with Section 145 (1) of the Nigerian Constitution, only in the event of the unavailability of their principal beyond 21 days, do they get to wield palpable constitutional influence as Acting President; this has been the case twice in the Buhari administration, first in June 2016 during the President’s brief medical trip to the United Kingdom, and the second and most crucial in January 2017, with Osinbajo stepping up to lead the charge in both cases.
How much notable change can be effected in 51 days?
It is my belief that a great number of people who fall into the faction earlier described – who are of the strong conviction that the VP is painfully quiet and is therefore complicit in the administration’s actions or the lack thereof – are genuinely ignorant of the progressive strides he took at a time when he could truly act.
Professor Yemi Osinbajo assumed the position of Acting President for a second time in January 2017, a period of grave uncertainty over the health condition of President Muhammadu Buhari, who had been out of the country for well over 21 days on health grounds.
His first official function was a meeting with the Executive Director of the World Food Programme (WFP), Ms. Er-Tharin Cousin on the 27th of January of the year 2017. He was informed of serious food shortage in the Northeast of Nigeria and why he needed to act fast to save hundreds of thousands dying from food starvation.
Immediately, he constituted a team made up of ministers and other cabinet members and ordered that they activated the Bureau of Public Enterprises Emergency Act. Days after, food and other household needs were on their way to the Northeast. Hundreds of Nigerians were saved from starvation.
On the 1st of February, he presided over the Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting, during which the Presidential Task Force on food security was mandated to reduce price of food items in the country.
But there was politics brewing in the background. The powers that be did not want Justice Walter Onnoghen as Chief Justice of Nigeria despite the fact that he was next in line. The ‘cabal’ and ‘elites’ had stalled his appointment, but all of that changed when Acting President Osinbajo on February 7, 2017, sent Justice Onnoghen’s name to the Senate for confirmation as Chief Justice of Nigeria. This was the first signal that Osinbajo was a man of balls but is he a man of steel?
That he showed, when he did what many Nigerians describe as the unthinkable. He fired the then Director General of the State Security Service, Lawal Musa Daura, for blocking the entrance gate to the National Assembly. This sent a warning to other larger than life public servants who once thought they could do anything and get away with it.
Does that make him a man of steel? Well, if that was not convincing enough, what was convincing was his decision to go to Borno State a day after Boko Haram had bombed Maiduguri, the State capital. Security agencies and intelligence warned him against the visit but Osinbajo was not one to shy away from adversity.
The next day he was in Maiduguri and he went on an on-site assessment of the destruction caused by the terrorists and immediately ordered the reconstruction of the villages. On arriving Abuja, Nigeria’s capital, he ordered all Service Chiefs to relocate to Maiduguri to combat the insurgency and the next day they were there.
What about infrastructure? On February 8, 2017, he chaired the FEC meeting and gave approval of 21 billion naira for the construction of Ilorin -Omu Aran, Kabba road section, in a similar vein on February 15, he approved the award of a 126 billion naira road project spread across Kano, Bauchi, Adamawa, Kwara, Gombe, Enugu and Kaduna States to be constructed with immediate effect.
He did more than infrastructure, he stabilized the economy and brokered a peace deal enjoyed till this day. February 10 to 13 saw Professor Yemi Osinbajo make a rotational visit to the Niger-Delta, in continuation of his interactive engagement with the oil producing communities in the region. The visit started in Yenagoa, the capital city of Bayelsa State.
He then proceeded to Port-Hacourt, Rivers State to meet stakeholders of the oil producing communities. During the meeting, he rolled out the frame work for the clean-up exercise of Ogoniland; this is in response to the report submitted by the United Nations Environmental Programme in 2011, warning about the deplorable condition of the community.
He was not done. Osinbajo brokered peace with Niger Delta militants while also encouraging the region to embrace modular refineries, which Nigeria now has four of today, thanks to his expertise.
On February 16, 2017, Professor Osinbajo presided over the first National Economic Council meeting of the year and directed the Central Bank of Nigeria to review the foreign exchange policy. The meeting also resolved that fresh $250 million be injected into the Sovereign Wealth Fund (SWF). The CBN subsequently released about $500 million through the inter-bank market where the 23 banks bought $371 million. Cut the chase, dollar to naira crashed drastically bringing a new lease of life to the economic wellbeing of Nigeria.
On February 17, Professor Osinbajo signed seven crucial bills into law, some of which are the Oaths (Amendment) Act 2017; Defence Space Administration Act 2017, and the Veterinary Surgeons (Amendment) Act 2017.
On an unscheduled visit that changed the fate of many derelict NCAA workers, Osinbajo appeared at the Murtala Muhammad International Airport in Lagos on the 23rd of February as part of the 60 days action plan for business reform in the country.
The visit, which took many airport workers by surprise went viral; during the visit, Professor Osinbajo inspected facilities and interacted with airport officials on the welfare of the workers and the travelers. In less than 24 hours after the visit, the Federal Government announced the sack of 10 directors of the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA). Three new Directors and General Managers were also appointed for the Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria (FAAN).
But more importantly, this was the genesis of Nigeria’s steady rise on the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business index. Prof. Osinbajo did not only make a case for a friendlier business environments, he ensured that government agencies removed bottlenecks by ensuring that they embrace technology.
The Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting Osinbajo chaired on February 22, 2017, approved 32 billion naira for the resuscitation and completion of 50 km dual carriage Kaduna eastern bypass highway, the council also approved $39.9 million for the construction of the Cameroon – Nigeria border-line bridge at Ikot – Efiem.
These are only a few of the proactive, hands-on and profoundly progressive actions that accompanied Prof. Osinbajo’s time as Acting President, 51 days that greatly pleased majority of Nigerians, so much so that an August 2018 publication of the BBC labelled him “Nigeria’s favourite leader”.
Conclusively, it will not come as a surprise if many dismiss this as a subjective view of the writer, still I doubt that any unbiased observer needs a diviner to conclude that if provided some more leeway, the Vice President and former Attorney General of Lagos State could move mountains.
-Ifedayo Peters writes from Abuja.