Hysteria is in the DNA of many Nigerians, especially those who are, for parochial or partisan reasons, decidedly and desperately against the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari.
Since the president announced the dissolution of the Economic Management Team headed by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, SAN, and replaced it with an Economic Advisory Council, there has been mass hysteria in the traditional and new media. This is apparent in the deluge of dilettante opinion articles, editorials, blog posts, blurbs and tweets all alluding to the fact that the VP has been politically emasculated by a phantom ‘cabal’ in the presidency because of his growing popularity and influence and the need to whittle them down before 2023. Some even said he has been marked for impeachment on trumped-up charges that could only have been products of a puerile imagination.
What the President simply did was to change the economic direction of his Next Level agenda; not ‘reduce’, as some also implied, the statutory functions of his beloved VP. As the chairman of the constitutionally created National Economic Council, the VP will continue to play a pivotal role in all economic matters in singular support and assistance of his Principal, Mr. President. For emphasis, the NEC meeting, held monthly, deliberates on the coordination of the economic planning efforts and economic programmes of the various levels of government.
The council comprises the 36 state governors, Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Minister of Finance, Secretary to the Government of the Federation and other government officials and agencies whose duties hinge on the economy. Last Thursday, the VP still chaired the NEC at the Presidential Villa. Osinbajo told attendees at the NEC meeting that both councils (NEC and EAC) are for the benefit of the president; and, “If NEC wants to be briefed regularly by the Economic Advisory Council, EAC, we will request the president to do that.” So, nothing has changed, except for the new song by dissidents.
What further sent the rumour mill into overdrive was an alleged directive that the Vice-President should, henceforth, seek presidential approvals for agencies under his supervision. VP Osinbajo is the chairman of the governing boards of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), the National Boundary Commission (NBC) and the Border Communities Development Agency (BCDA). He is also the chairman of the board of directors of the Niger Delta Power Holding Company (NDPHC), a limited liability company owned by the three tiers of government; and the National Economic Council (NEC), a constitutional body made up of state governors and key federal government officials, as well as the National Council on Privatisation (NCP).
Under the laws setting up the agencies, the president is empowered to give final approvals but those who chose to ignore this constitutional provision went to town, gloating and ululating, that the VP has eventually been cut to size. A careful introspection is critical here. Apart from the fact that he is a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, the Vice President, as the whole world knows, is a Professor of Law. So, if anybody should know what the constitution stipulates as the roles and powers of a VP, it is Osinbajo. So, why would he want to overreach himself knowing what the constitution states? At what point does doing the right thing require a directive? Some things just don’t add up in the name of playing politics.
Late 2018, the House of Representatives Committee on Emergency and Disaster Preparedness invited the VP to explain his role in the N5.8 billion North East Intervention Fund which the lawmakers said was mismanaged by the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA). The NEMA is one of the agencies under the VP. The committee said the authorisation for the release of the fund for emergency food intervention in the North East contravened Section 80(4) of the 1999 Constitution as amended. And that the funds were credited directly to the individual banks of the companies and NEMA’s bank account, in violation of the approval limit allowed by law.
Nowhere in the report was the VP alleged to have benefitted from the fund. Good enough, the Presidency issued a public statement to say that the money Osinbajo, in his capacity as the Acting President, approved for release in the dire emergency was sourced from the Rice Levy which had already been appropriated in that year’s budget. And that explanation settled the matter. However, in the desperation of the strident opposition, the allegation, which had since been dispelled by the House Committee, is now being unearthed as if it were new, in a mere political contrivance intended to distract the President Buhari-led administration.
Every discerning mind should be above this outright fake news and sheer inanity. Just as they should about rumours that some unspecified amount of money was found in some private accounts related to the VP’s family or that some Federal Inland Revenue Services, FIRS, funds were traced to his office. The purveyors of this particular rumour even said that the National Leader of the All Progressives’ Congress, APC, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu and a former National Chairman of the party, Chief Bisi Akande, had been duly informed. Another such report maintained that Asiwaju himself is behind the attempt to smear the VP.
These are mere fabrications intended to drive a wedge between the VP and those he holds in very high esteem. Thankfully, the president and the party leaders are above such frivolous distractions. Indeed, at no time since Nigeria’s democratic experience began that the President and his VP have enjoyed the kind of cordial relationship and mutual respect that exist between President Buhari and VP Osinbajo. The president believes so much in the competence, character and capacity of his VP that he allows him to handle some of the populist programmes of the administration. And, this has not been without politically-motivated hiccups.
The VP is the ‘face’ of TraderMoni, the empowerment scheme of the Federal Government created specifically for petty traders and artisans across Nigeria. The launch of the scheme saw the VP crisscrossing the country, enlightening the people about it and generally pressing the flesh to the delight of Nigerians. Yet, those who do not know the workings of the scheme have gone to town, falsely accusing the VP of mismanaging the Tradermoni Funds. Instructively, the Bank of Industry is in charge of the Tradermoni; the funds never get into the hands of the VP or his aides; the money is sent to the people via their phones. The VP has just been monitoring to make sure people received what they were promised and the program was working.
So any imputation of embezzlement is nothing but a frantic attempt to soil a hard-earned reputation of loyalty, integrity and capability which the VP has built in the last four years, and which has helped to steady the incumbent administration in no small measure. Conclusively, the news and noise of a rift or whittling down of the VP’s powers is akin to a storm in a teacup; both the president and the Vice President are still working in tandem to ensure that Nigerians are genuinely taken to the Next Level in their own time.